By Ashlee Lundvall ~
When you ask me about my childhood summer memories, one of the first things I think about is heading to camp. I was born while my parents were running a church camp in Indiana, and although we eventually moved, I can’t remember a summer where I wasn’t at camp in one place or another. When my accident happened in the summer of 1999, I was at a camp in Wyoming. Needless to say, camp has played a large part in my life over the years.
After my accident, my experience at camp changed. Instead of being an active camper, I transitioned to being a passive observer of other teens. There wasn’t a camp around that was able to accommodate my disability during activities, so while I was still able to attend with my parents, it wasn’t quite the same. All that changed last year when I met Bob Bardwell.
I was visiting a friend in Wisconsin when Bob and his wife, Jode, stopped in for a visit. Bob’s enthusiasm about Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch was tangible, and I soon heard myself agreeing to consider heading back to summer camp… this time as an active camper.
Bob, a former wheelchair marathon winner, motivational speaker and author, had founded the Ranch in 1976. Injured in a construction accident in ‘72, Bob understood the importance of remaining active despite his disability. He decided to give that opportunity to others when he opened a week in 1986 to people age 12 and up with a physical disability. The National Wheelchair Sports Camp is now the largest wheelchair camp in America, hosting teens and adults from across the country. And last summer, I was one of them.
I’ll admit, I was a little apprehensive as we drove from our home in Wyoming to Minnesota for camp. With my husband and daughter in tow, I told myself that it wouldn’t bother me if I was the oldest camper attending. I would enjoy sitting on the sidelines and cheering on the younger kids as they participated in activities that, according to the brochure, looked pretty amazing. It took about five seconds of arriving at the Ranch to learn two things: one, I wasn’t the oldest camper there, and two, I was going to be involved in every activity offered whether I wanted to or not!
As a person with a disability, I am used to being in the minority. At this camp, I was in the majority. Everywhere I looked I saw people that looked just like me. Excuses and anxious feelings were tossed out the window as I fully immersed myself in this amazing environment. As a former athlete, my competitive nature is always rippling right below the surface. It didn’t take long before it burst forth, and I wanted nothing else than for my team to win at dodgeball, softball, soccer, archery, the obstacle course, the scavenger hunt, and pretty much any other activity we participated in. We enjoyed a day at the lake, complete with a boat ride, kayaking, and when the weather cooperates, adaptive water skiing. Later in the week, after we had to leave and much to my disappointment, a rock climbing wall was delivered to the Ranch. I also missed out on the zipline, an issue I plan to remedy when I return this summer to Wheelchair Sports Camp as a co-leader and camper.
I can’t wait to go back! It was a life changing week, and I know I will look forward to it for years to come. I met so many amazing people that I now consider friends, and it was encouraging to be surrounded by folks who understood what my life back home is like. I was able to learn from others and share my experiences, and I would highly recommend the experience to others with a disability, regardless of their age. If you like to be active and/or enjoy the outdoors from your wheelchair, this is the camp for you. I would love to meet you there this summer!
Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch is a 200-acre non-profit located in Stewartville, MN. This year’s Wheelchair Sports Camp is held on June 9 – 14, 2018. Accessible lodging is located on the ranch. Scholarships available upon review. For more information about any of the opportunities offered at ISCR or to register for camp, go to http://ironwoodsprings.com/ or call 507-533-4315.